On July 28, 1944 the seven-strong crew of Lancaster JB701 EA-G lifted off from their base at Fiskerton, Lincolnshire. Aiming for targets in Stuttgart, JB701 was one of a dozen No.49 Squadron aircraft involved and part of a force of more than 500 RAF bombers allocated to the raid.
The aircraft was piloted by F/L W Powell and crewed by Sgt J West – the flight engineer, F/O G Franklin – the navigator, Sgt-Cf D Stephens – the wireless operator, F/O A Cole – the bomb aimer, and two air gunners – Sgts G Kirkpatrick and T Moore.
With recent sorties against Stuttgart thwarted by bad weather, it was hoped this latest raid would benefit from good conditions. However, operating on a bright, moonlit night had its dangers and the raiders met with disaster. Night fighters claimed 39 bombers overnight, including Powell’s aircraft.
All seven aboard JB701 were killed. They crashed near Sens, 75 miles south of Paris, and were buried in a nearby cemetery at St Martin-sur-Oreuse. Three-quarters of a century later, they have been honoured by the unveiling of a new memorial sited in the field where the Lancaster crashed. The site had previously been cared for by local children and the ceremony was organised by Jean-Luc Prieur, who has spent much of the last 15 years searching for the descendants of the seven dead.
Among those attending was Bob Kirkpatrick, 76, whose father George was killed on JB701 when Bob was just 18 months old. Bob travelled to the unveiling with his wife and two nieces, he said: “My father and many others gave their lives so that we could all be free. For the past 75 years this French village community has honoured my family by tending his grave, ensuring his sacrifice is remembered. This part of France, like many others, will remain connected to Britain by the blood in the soil. I am happy that my father is buried with his crew and that his resting place is protected by friends he never met.”
It has never been confirmed who shot down JB701, but 49 Squadron Association researcher, Colin Cripps, suggests ace Hauptmann Heinz-Horst Hißbach of 5./NJG 2 was responsible. He claimed to have downed a heavy bomber over Sens just before 1am that night. He was killed by ground fire in April 1945, having claimed 30 kills – 26 at night.